Changing Unwanted Aspects of Type A Behavior through Self-awareness, Stillness, and Repentance

Many persons who are characterized with Type A behavior patterns spend so much of their mental and physical resources on getting ahead and accomplishing their goals that they have little time or energy left to devote to their inner lives. For this reason, they often lack a certain self-awareness or self-understanding that manifests itself in their inability to curb their behavior or at least modify it in order to live not only a productive life, but also a healthy one in body and spirit. This is why self-awareness and self-understanding become focal points for therapeutic self-discovery and … [Read more...]

Getting to the Cause

In my last blog post, I noted the vast difference between the theological/spiritual approach to anger seen in the fathers and the biological/naturalistic approach observed in cognitive therapists. Still as healers and helpers for the suffering, they both home in on an important principle: the necessity of identifying the source of the underlying anger before recommending a specific therapeutic intervention. In a particularly rich passage on the pathology of anger, Saint John Climacus notes that, “As bodily fever is one thing, but the causes of this are not one but many, so also the boiling up … [Read more...]

Ideal Selves, Ideal Images, or the Image of God

We all have our own stories about who we are, stories that are part fact and part fiction, with the dividing line between the two being less than clear. In order to feel good about ourselves, we sometimes make these stories into an ideal image of who we should be or who we wish we were. Unfortunately, that ideal image can make us, often unwittingly, arrogant in the original sense of the word, arrogating or appropriating qualities that we don’t really fully hold. And also regrettably, this ideal image has very little to do with either the ideals of the Gospel or with the image of God, but … [Read more...]

Acceptance That Heals

In the last blog post I mentioned a tenet from Acceptance and Commitment therapy: “We can choose to react to negative thoughts or simply accept the fact that we have had a negative thought.” This is also a fundamental principle in the spiritual life. Our choice has more than temporal, psychological repercussions. It has eternal significance, for repetitive choices set up patterns of behavior that can either draw us closer to God and neighbor or drive us further away from the two poles of our existence. Let us assume for the sake of this post that the choice made involves acceptance of the fact … [Read more...]

Being Captive to the Thoughts or Learning to Choose

As human beings, we are constantly bombarded with thoughts.  Many of these thoughts are not volitional in the sense that we don’t necessarily choose them.  They may simply enter our consciousness without a deliberate choice. Sometimes, they also affect our emotions, again without any choice on our part. If, without reflection, we perceive all our thoughts as expressions of what is real and true, we are setting ourselves up for further problems. But if we can become aware of the choices that are still ours, we can find freedom, the freedom that God intends for us to enjoy. Let me provide an … [Read more...]

Examining the Secret Things of the Heart vs. the Secret Things of Others

“God has given you one face and you make yourself another.” (Hamlet, Shakespeare) The human heart is so complex; we hardly know ourselves, let alone another human being.  Yet, we spend a great deal of time analyzing and judging the actions and words of others, seeking out their secret motives and basically guessing in the dark. There are a number of reasons why we do this. Part of it is in order to predict what others will do, to protect ourselves in the future, to exonerate our own misbehavior, and to feel somehow superior to them in the present, since we really understand what makes them … [Read more...]

Habitual Sin

In the last blog post, I noted, “When we give into the temptations of the devil repeatedly, those ways of reacting become ingrained habits and then no devil is necessary to continue to entice us, we entice ourselves.”  This is an important notion for each of us to ponder. There is a precious period of time before giving into sin when our will inclines either in the seemingly easy direction of the temptation or in the Gospel’s seemingly more arduous call to virtue. If we are not constantly struggling to root out sinful habits, if we are not watchful over our will, that period time decreases … [Read more...]

Some Views of the Fathers on Excuses

In an earlier post I spoke about a reference in Ancient Christian Wisdom to excusing our sins instead of accusing them. One patristic source for this formulation is Blessed Augustine’s On Continence, where he writes the following about the psalm phrase “to make excuses in sins”: “What is more sinful than these words, through which a sinner denies that he is sinful, although he is convicted of a sinful work that he himself cannot deny. And since he is unable to hide the deed or say that it was good that he did it, and since he can still clearly see that the deed was done by him, he tries to … [Read more...]

Repentance: To Accuse and Not Excuse

If we are to make progress coping with our thoughts, we must make progress in repentance. And if we are to make progress in repentance, it is critical that we learn to accuse ourselves of our sins, rather than excuse them or deny them. In my book, I refer to the writings of Saint Augustine and Tertullian who make the contrast between "the word ac-cusare that implies movement toward accusation and the word ex-cusare that means movement away from accusation."  Unfortunately, even in confession, it is not uncommon for people to weave a series of excuses or denials, so that the person will appear … [Read more...]

Self-esteem, Philautia, and the Fathers’ Solution

For many people, the barometer, that determines whether they are happy or not, has to do with their self-esteem. William James once defined self-esteem as “perceived competence in domains of importance.” So if I value writing good posts, my self esteem should go up if others tell me that such is the case and I will then feel good about myself. If a businessman values becoming a CEO, a promotion to that position will be a promotion in self-esteem that will make him feel good about himself. If young woman values being a smart dresser, comments by others to that effect will increase her … [Read more...]